SINGAPORE - Muslim nurses, community organisations and political leaders have applauded the move to allow nurses to wear the tudung with their uniforms from November, with many highlighting how it reflects cross-cultural understanding.
But some have asked for more clarity on the kind of head coverings that will be approved.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the Government's policy change in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 29), which came on the back of years of consultation and consensus building among communities here.
The announcement drew plaudits from many Muslim groups.
On Monday, the chief executive of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), Esa Masood, said that PM Lee's announcement demonstrates that the Government understands and is responsive to the needs and aspirations of the Muslim community.
"This is certainly progress that the Muslim community is deeply appreciative of, and one that we can attribute back to the peace and harmony that we have built together over the years," he said.
The Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) also said it was humbled and thankful to hear the "good news".
"This good change is thanks to the patience and prayers of all segments of Singaporean society (and) our concerted efforts and determination to discuss this matter thoroughly, taking into account the unity and religious harmony which we have been enjoying," noted a Pergas spokesman.
Mr Hazni Aris, vice-chairman of non-profit group AMP Singapore, said the change in policy will allow many female Muslim nurses to fulfil both their workplace and religious obligations. It will also encourage many more to join or return to what it called a meaningful profession.
After PM Lee's announcement, MPs like Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim took to Facebook to give their thumbs up.
"I welcome the announcement that further expands the possibilities of our Malay Muslims. I hope we always keep in mind that regardless of (the) Government's policies today or in future, our collective potential is not limited by what we wear or how we look like," said the Chua Chu Kang GRC MP.
The move will give more nurses more flexibility, said president of the Healthcare Services Employees' Union K. Thanaletchimi. "By allowing nurses to decide if they wish to wear a tudung, we hope that this will help to lower the barriers for Muslim nurses who are keen to join the healthcare sector but have been holding back due to the current guideline on this," she said.
PM Lee said on Sunday that policies on race and religion must be adjusted from time to time, and Singapore is now ready to make this move.
"Besides pushing against discrimination and racist attitudes, we also need to keep our policies on race and religion up to date because racial and religious harmony is not just delicate, but also dynamic," he added.
"It changes over time. Our values and beliefs as a society shift over time."
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said after the PM's speech that the revised policy will apply to more than 7,000 staff, and the updated dress code will be based on guidelines developed by a steering committee and an advisory panel.
Extensive consultation was conducted from April to August this year with infectious diseases experts, nursing leaders as well as the Muslim community and union leaders.
The Singapore Muslim Women's Association noted in a Facebook post on Sunday that the move would create a conducive work environment for women. Its president, Madam Hazlina Abdul Halim, said on Monday that the group is ready to work with the authorities to develop guidelines on the new dress code for nurses.
MOH has not provided any guidelines or requirements in terms of the tudung's size, accessories, colour or the way it is worn.
Pergas on Monday proposed a tudung that uses a cooler fabric like rayon, has no flaps that may get in the way of performing work procedures, and sports a stethoscope-friendly design.
Ms Sujinah Mohamad Suandi, a 38-year-old senior patient service associate at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, said she and other colleagues were not personally troubled at previously being unable to wear the tudung. But they are glad to have the choice now.
Ms Nia Nasyitah Zulkifli, 27, said the change will go a long way to help persuade some Muslim women to join the healthcare industry. "Some might be hesitating because they aren't very willing to take off their tudung... I would hope for those who were hesitating previously to join now that there are fewer restrictions with regards to the tudung," added the senior radiographer at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.
Nurse Clinician Nurli Fadhillah Ab Latiff, who works in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, said that she is looking forward to the details on the implementation of the dress code.
"Also, even with the allowance to wear a tudung with uniform, nurses are aware that adherence to infection prevention guidelines, such as bare below the elbows when carrying out procedures, remain of utmost importance," she said.